Ok, so I wasn’t actually invited to lunch at the home of some wealthy New York socialite who summers in the snotty yachtie capital of the US. But I am here in Newport, Rhode Island, visiting my yacht captain husband and I did have a tasty salad and chocolate chip cookie in what was the carriage house,now turned cafe, of the Elms, a mansion modelled after an 18th century French chateau. Luckily the Elms, along with several other Newport mansions, has been preserved for future generations to appreciate and is open to the public year round.
About five buildings, the size of your average residential home, could fit inside the fancy shmancy carriage house. So I was anxious to get a look at the inside of the main building. I was not to be disappointed.
Here’s a picture of what was considered the "Summer cottage" of coal millionaire, Edward Berwind.
The effort put into the over the top opulence of the decor can only be described as "keeping up with the Jones’s" on steroids. With its massive rooms full of intricately carved marble fireplaces, mouldings and cornices, 17th and 18th century artwork, tapestries, renaissance ceramics and antique furnishings from Paris, not to mention a magnificient grand piano entirely covered in gold leaf, it’s obvious no expense was spared by the owner to impress his peers. Even the bathrooms are so elaborately decorated, it’s a wonder anyone would ever feel comfortable enough to use them for their naturally intended purpose!
And, in case you’re fantasizing about how romantic and fun it must have been for the wives vacationing in these luxurious homes, think again. I found out on the tour that between supervising the servants, receiving callers, holding tea parties and bridge games, planning the next ball, and participating in various activities such as golf, sailing and cycling, these women never had one spare moment to relax and enjoy their beautiful surroundings. Beside all that, it was also considered in very poor taste if you didn’t don a completely different outfit appropriate for every occasion, activity and even time of day. So along with all the social responibilities, it was customary for these ladies to change several times a day in order to keep the status quo. And we all know the clothing back then wasn’t the easiest to get into and out of. It appears being a rich society matron at the turn of the century was a positively exhausting job!
Tomorrow I’m off to Rosecliff, the mansion where they filmed "The Great Gatsby". Am very excited to see this one, as part of the tour includes an historic fashion exhibit.